There is a lot that still needs to happen before the Dallas Cowboys' 53 man roster takes shape in early September, but with all of the pieces added, there is a lot to like about how the roster may shape up at the end of preseason.
Because of my personality, I like to look at the possibilities. Well here is a possible outcome for the 53 man roster, as we sit in May.
- Dak Prescott
- Kellen Moore
While many would like to see another name sitting behind Dak Prescott on the depth chart, it's unlikely that will happen, barring another training camp injury to backup, Kellen Moore.
The coaching staff likes Moore and the front office seems to like Moore as well, showing their comfort level as they were willing to head into the 2016 season with Moore as the backup.
This is one of those "In McClay we Trust" moments. They seem to like him, so let's roll with him. Hopefully he's never needed anyway.
Running Back (5)
- Ezekiel Elliott
- Darren McFadden
- Rod Smith
- Keith Smith
- Jahad Thomas
Ezekiel Elliott and Darren McFadden's roles are clearly delineated. Elliott is the work-horse three-down back, and McFadden is the versatile backup who can spell Elliott on early downs as well as passing downs.
Rod Smith's presence on the roster will not surprise me when it happens. He plays on special teams and is a good power runner who can be used in short yardage situations.
Keith Smith is the team's fullback. Years of trying to use a tight end to play fullback are gone as Smith has now cemented his place in the offense, even if he's isn't used very much.
Absent is any kind of "scat back" that fans love, which I think is a bit overrated.
Everyone would love to have a Darren Sproles, James White, or Dion Lewis type of back, the problem is those guys are hard to find. Darren Sproles may be the best at what he does, EVER. I'd honestly rather give passing game snaps to Elliott and McFadden who may not be as quick, but offer as much speed and more power than a Lance Dunbar type.
It's not unforeseeable that Ryan Switzer gets some of the Dunbar packages with his experience as a running back in high school.
Wide Receiver (5)
The three at the top are no surprise here. Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley have solidified their status as the top receiving options for the team. Williams' blocking ability keeps him in the game and gives a boost to the run game.
Gone are Lucky Whitehead and Brice Butler with the additions of Switzer and 2017 7th round pick Noah Brown. Switzer will likely win the returner jobs, which leaves Whitehead's place on the team in question.
Butler is a good receiver, at times, but has also had some untimely drops.
While Brown is a project, he offers an immediate upgrade in his blocking ability and his toughness and physicality could be used on special teams. Brown can be used in the same role that Vince Mayle was called up for in 2016: the big blocking wide receiver.
Tight End (3)
- Jason Witten
- Rico Gathers
- Geoff Swaim
I'm going a bit long here at tight end because I don't think the team will be able to sneak Rico Gathers to the practice squad if he isn't ready to take a regular spot on the game day roster.
Jason Witten is the TE1 until someone takes his job, which isn't likely in 2017.
James Hanna and Geoff Swaim both offer good depth and run game blocking ability. I think the team wouldn't mind going long to keep both of them if Gathers' blocking ability isn't ready to go. If it is, one of these two won't make it. I'm thinking Hanna, who could also be a PUP candidate to start the year much like Darren McFadden and his NFI stint in 2016.
Offensive Line (9)
- Tyron Smith
- Zack Martin
- Travis Frederick
- La'el Collins
- Chaz Green
- Jonathan Cooper
- Byron Bell
- Joe Looney
- Emmett Cleary
The biggest question with this group is where La'el Collins will play. He figures to start at either left guard or right tackle, but at the moment, that is an unknown. The Cowboys seem to be trying to find their best five players on the line. That could mean Jonathan Cooper becomes the starting left guard because Collins is the best right tackle option.
Byron Bell will be on the roster because he is a veteran presence that can play multiple spots on the offensive line.
If Chaz Green isn't the starting right tackle then he will serve as the swing tackle again this year. Emmett Cleary serves as more tackle depth with Green's injury history.
Defensive Line (9)
- Taco Charlton
- Maliek Collins
- DeMarcus Lawrence
- Cedric Thornton
- Tyrone Crawford
- David Irving
- Benson Mayowa
- Charles Tapper
- Stephen Paea
Taco Charlton has a real shot to be a day-one starter, but on which side of the defensive line? That is a big question heading into OTAs. The team loves him, but where does he fit?
Charles Tapper is another Jaylon Smith story. Got a redshirt year his rookie season and appears to be healthy and has slimmed down a bit to get ready to play the right defensive end spot. He'll have to get back into game shape, but could be an enormous addition to the defensive line rotation.
Outside of Stephen Paea and Cedric Thornton -- who are best utilized as 1-technique tackles -- and Maliek Collins at 3-technique, the rest of the defensive line group seems to be able to line up in several places.
Several guys found their stride at times last season like David Irving, Benson Mayowa, and Collins. The hope is they will take another step forward.
It seems like they have the depth now at defensive end that they can move Tyrone Crawford back to 3-technique. While he was effective at end, his best position is inside.
- Sean Lee
- Jaylon Smith
- Anthony Hitchens
- Damien Wilson
- Kyle Wilber
- Mark Nzeocha
Sean Lee made his first trip to the Pro Bowl last year and received a 1st team All-Pro award for his work on the weak side of the Dallas Cowboys 4-3 scheme. Talent has never been the issue with Lee, it was always health. Last year he had some luck in the health department and we got to see his talent over a full 16 games. Perfect fit on the weak side.
Jaylon Smith might be the most eagerly awaited debut of any defensive player we have drafted since DeMarcus Ware. If he is healthy, he will be the starter in the middle and after reading Staff Writer Kevin Brady's scouting review, we are going to love what he brings to the defense.
That leaves the strong side linebacker spot to be battled over in camp and throughout the season. Damien Wilson was very effective over there, but the team will also give Anthony Hitchens a shot as well.
While six linebackers may not be enough, let's not forget that Keith Smith has some experience there and could provide depth if needed. Your seventh linebacker is probably around for special teams play, which the team can get from Keith Smith, Rod Smith, and Robert Blanton.
Count me as someone who didn't see a need to go defensive back in the first round during the draft. I thought that Nolan Carroll's addition equated that of Brandon Carr, with a bit more turnover potential, and Anthony Brown was a player to watch to take another step forward. Orlando Scandrick was going to be another year removed from his injury and better prepared for the season.
While they didn't invest a first round pick, they certainly invested heavily at cornerback during the draft.
Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis were added to the cornerback group and both have a shot at significant playing time as soon as week one.
While I think it's more likely that Carroll and Brown are your week one starters on the outside and Scandrick in the slot, training camp competition could certainly change all of that. Awuzie and Lewis both have tremendous ability and can contribute right away. The question is will the coaching staff and front office be willing to give two rookies significant playing time week one and let them grow?
I could see a scenario where Scandrick is a camp casualty because of the play of Lewis and Awuzie. If both show they are ready to go, Scandrick, at his advanced age for a cornerback, could be on the way out as the team gets younger.
Marquez White offers very intriguing athleticism and length that I would like to keep on the active roster and develop. Especially if the team releases Scandrick, White becomes depth on the outside.
Byron Jones is entrenched as the starter at one of the safety spots. Because they like to use a rotation, there will be plenty of snaps for Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, and Kavon Frazier, on defense as well as special teams.
Robert Blanton figures to be depth and he'll add to special teams while providing some veteran depth in case the younger guys don't hold up to the pressures of starting at safety opposite Jones. The hope is that through competition, the cream will rise to the top and they will be able to replace Barry Church's production over the last few years.
Heath and Woods have shown a penchant for creating turnovers and making plays on the football, which is something this Rod Marinelli defense has been missing.
Awuzie's ability to also play safety allows Dallas to only carry four players here.
Special Teams (3)
- Dan Bailey
- Chris Jones
- L.P. Ladouceur
There will be camp bodies at each of these positions, but this group is set. They've been good to great at what they do.
Where did I go wrong? Where did I go right? Let me know below.
Should Cowboys Consider Trading for Disgruntled Packers S Josh Jones?
Despite their insistence that upgrading the safety position was a top offseason priority, the Dallas Cowboys haven't really done much to improve the backend of their secondary. They did sign former Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals Safety George Iloka as a free agent and drafted Donovan Wilson in the sixth-round in this year's NFL Draft, but neither player looks like a clear-cut upgrade at this point. Fortunately, there's still time to find Xavier Woods' counterpart for 2019.
Xavier Woods is the only clear-cut starter at safety currently on the Dallas Cowboys roster. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine as to who starts opposite him this season. With that in mind, the Cowboys should be keeping all of their options open, including acquiring players who get released or even making a trade for someone they like. The latter is what I want to talk about today.
A potential safety who could be put on the trade block that I'm kind of intrigued with is Josh Jones, who has reportedly requested a trade from the Green Bay Packers.
Packers safety Josh Jones is skipping the voluntary OTAs and working out in Florida because he's hoping to be traded, a source told ESPN. The source said the 2017 second-round pick believes it would be best for both parties if they parted ways. Story coming on ESPN shortly.
Josh Jones clearly sees where he stands with the Green Bay Packers after they signed Adrian Amos in free agency and drafted Darnell Savage Jr. 21st overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, thus his absence from OTA's and trade request. He understands the business and knows he's not going to see the field much behind those two, meaning his best chance for playing time would be in a different uniform.
It's not all that shocking Jones has requested a trade. Even before the Packers added Amos and Savage he wasn't receiving a lot of playing time. He's just never seemed to fit into what Green Bay was trying to do on the backend of their defense. It may be in the best interest of both parties to mutually part ways. This is where the Dallas Cowboys come in.
I believe Josh Jones is exactly the type of safety Kris Richard would like to pair Xavier Woods with on the backend of the Cowboys defense. He fits the criteria Richard likes in his defensive backs as far as size, length, and speed are concerned. And, he also has the kind of skill set/mindset to become that Kam Chancellor "enforcer" type of strong safety.
Josh Jones is at his best when he can play around the line of scrimmage, much like Chancellor was during his time with the Seahawks. But, Jones also has the ability to be a factor in coverage as well. The only real question here is whether or not he's an upgrade over the likes of Jeff Heath, George Iloka, and maybe even rookie Donovan Wilson?
In all honesty, I don't have the answer to that question. Josh Jones really hasn't received a fair opportunity to prove himself in his first two years in the NFL. I believe the skill set is there to start in the league, but there's not much there to back up that belief.
Personally, I'd be willing to part way with a late round pick if I were the Cowboys to acquire Josh Jones. I like the idea of bringing him in to work with Kris Richard and allowing him to compete for the starting job next to Xavier Woods. This is exactly the kind of low risk/high reward move Dallas likes to gamble on, and it could potentially pay off in a big way.
Where do you stand? Should the Cowboys consider trading for Josh Jones?
How Can The Cowboys Force More Turnovers In 2019?
2018 seemed like the beginning of a new era. A defensive era. For the first time in years the Cowboys were able to consistently lean on their defense during games, staying alive even as their offense sputtered and limped through stretches early in the season.
The defense was downright prolific some weeks. They carried the Cowboys to an inspiring home victory over the New Orleans Saints to put them in prime position to make the playoffs. They dominated the Wild Card game in key moments, making key stops and holding the Seahawks to just 22 points in the win. They featured one of the league's best individual pass rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence, an All Pro cornerback in Byron Jones, and one of the league's most exciting young linebacker duos.
For all of this success, this defense still lacked one thing. Takeaways.
The Cowboys forced only 9 interceptions in 2018, ranking 26th across the league. In fact, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was actually tied with Xavier Woods for the team lead in interceptions with just 2. When it comes to total takeaways the Cowboys' defense was a little better off, though, finishing 16th in the NFL.
Part of the "problem" seems to be their philosophy. The Cowboys have finished 26th, 24th, 27th, and 31st in interceptions dating back to 2015. They've also finished 9th, 25th, 18th, and 19th in team defense DVOA over that same stretch. Clearly there was an improvement in total defense in 2018, but neither their team defense nor ability to take the ball away has been strong since 2015.
The bigger problem, really, is a lack of luck. While this sounds like a cop-out, takeaways often do come down to just that. Of course putting yourself in the right place at the right time to benefit from a batted pass or overthrown ball matters, but those bounces finding the right hands is usually a matter of luck.
Turnovers are incredibly volatile year to year, and as much as you'd like your players to "make their own luck," randomness does play a part here.
You can certainly argue the Cowboys have done their best this offseason to increase their chances at takeaways, however. By trading for defensive end Robert Quinn, re-signing DeMarcus Lawrence, and adding talented players to the middle of their defensive line as well, Dallas has put an emphasis on getting after the quarterback and corralling the opposing running game. Putting pressure on quarterbacks can force them into quick decision making or bad throws, which could in turn breed interceptions.
This is far from guaranteed, though. Plus the Cowboys play against some of the league's top quarterbacks this year, which hurts their chances of taking the ball away further.
In the end the Cowboys will need both the skill of their pass rushers and defensive backs to put them in good positions, and luck to smile down on them, if they'd like to turn around their takeaway numbers in 2019. And after all, this demoralizing trend has to reverse itself at some point, doesn't it?
Will It Be The Cowboys, Or Another Team, Who Pays Byron Jones After 2019?
After having his fifth year option exercised for the 2019 season, cornerback Byron Jones enters a contract year this Fall.
Jones inarguably had the best year of his career in 2018: earning not only his first Pro Bowl selection but also Second Team All Pro honors for his performance. Doing it all without an impressive stat sheet, Jones was able to let his film speak for itself throughout most of the year, and he became the number one cornerback we'd all hoped he could be when the Cowboys decided to take the freakishly athletic defensive back in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
This contract year is quite unique for Byron Jones, however. Next offseason the Cowboys will be forced to re-sign and extend just about all of their key contributors on both sides of the ball. DeMarcus Lawrence already got his contract, but Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, and others still await their deals. Deals which the front office has all-but explicitly promised will come.
This leaves Jones, the former first round pick and now former All Pro, generally considered to be the odd man out. So while 2019 is a contract year for Byron Jones, he may be earning himself a contract from a completely different team.
Jones has had an interesting road to this contract season. One which would be a shame for the Cowboys to waste. Moving between cornerback and safety during the first three years of his career, Jones fell out of the coaches' good graces while playing out of his most natural position. Under Kris Richard's new regime, though, Jones had his best season to date. He looked to finally be comfortable in his role, and was now playing for a coach who believed he could be a special player.
Now that Byron Jones has found his place in the Cowboys defense, and has earned his way into conversations with the league's top cornerbacks, he's likely priced himself out of the Cowboys' future plans.
It's funny how that works out. Of course, Jones should go get paid, and I'd never fault a guy for maximizing his value on the market. But there's a good chance the Cowboys make the mistake of allowing a premier cornerback to walk out of their building next offseason. But if they want to retain players like Elliott and Cooper, they may not have any other choice.
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